A Beginner’s Guide to Mudslinging

Above photo: The author gets her hands dirty in clay at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

Story by Anne Roderique-Jones; photos by Nathan Jones

Anne is a New Orleans-based freelance writer who covers travel, food and lifestyle topics. She lives in the Irish Channel neighborhood with her husband Nathan, an obese cat and her dog, Delta Burke.

Pottery lessons are a fun way to relax and get creative on the Gulf Coast.

I started taking pottery courses in New York City. It makes sense — the metropolis is a buzzing hive of chaos, so pottery became a form of therapy that helped quiet my mind. Upon moving to New Orleans, I found a new studio, Hands in Clay, on a pretty and pedestrian-friendly stretch of Magazine Street in Uptown. The studio began humbly when a few folks were seeking a creative outlet after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Essentially, they needed a community, so this studio was born. A front gallery showcases work for sale: teapots, vases and a smattering of ceramics made in-house by the artists. Slip into the back and there’s a working pottery studio, owned and operated by potter Martin Lill, where six-week classes are taught.

But just across the state line in Mississippi lies a hotbed of artists, specifically potters — many of whom teach classes to beginners. For those looking to get their hands dirty, a trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast is an ideal start.

Drive down the beautiful stretch of Beach Boulevard (Highway 90), and you’ll come to Pass Christian, Mississippi, in just an hour’s time. It’s easy to spot by the palatial Southern mansions that dot the highway. Back in the woods, you’ll find Nettles Pottery on a 30-acre property along the Wolf River. Brian Nettles, an artist and educator, teaches a host of classes, including private pottery lessons, at his 3,400-square-foot studio. If you’re lucky, you might be asked to participate in one of his multi-day kiln-firing sessions.

The Frank Gehry-designed Ohr-O’Keefe Museum is just down the road on a sandy stretch of Beach Boulevard in Biloxi. The museum is the Gulf Coast’s epicenter for art of all forms, but the ceramics building can hold its own. Classes run the gamut from multi-week wheel throwing for beginners to building pieces by hand. I took a Saturday morning Mudslingers class to introduce my husband to the wheel. Classes to create a ceramic magnolia or a Mardi Gras mask also are offered in addition to classes for seniors and kids.

For something a bit, say, less-serious, an afternoon spent at Alleykat Ceramics in Gulfport might be just the ticket. The full-service studio is the ideal place for a girls’ day or a party of any sort. (Yes, ceramics can be a party.) The studio has everything you need to create, paint and fire a piece of art. All that I’d recommend is to bring a bottle of wine. Poof, there’s your party.